From July 2008

Relocating to Shenzhen

Photo by Sze Tsung Leong for The New York Times

A little over a month ago I posted about my desire to relocate and work in China again. Well, after a great deal of research and interviews at odd hours of the day and night I’m pleased to be able to announce that I will be relocating to Shenzhen (next to Hong Kong) in just over a months time!

I’ll be working in the same field as I do currently but in a slightly different role for a new company and, all going well, intend to stay out there for a couple of years at least. I’m a little sad to be saying goodbye to London which has been my home for the past 3 years but feel ready for a change, new challenges and above all an adventure!

The process of obtaining a work permit and the appropriate visa (type Z) is the first hurdle on my journey which is so far proving to be a complete nightmare. Not only am I required to submit verified copies of all the usual documents but also have to provide comprehensive medical reports, criminal records (of which I of course have none!), and education certificates. Frustratingly no official documentation is available for the process which is eating a lot of precious time and money but, keeping the end goal in mind, worth it!

A Little About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city of over 12 million people which only 30 years ago was a small fishing village until becoming China’s first Special Economic Zone in 1979 under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. With the help of massive foreign investment it has since grown at a rate unseen in human history before and is now the largest manufacturing base in the world (your iPod/iPhone was born there!) and southern China’s major financial hub.

With no recognisable centre Shenzhen is a city like no other and has been described as a “vast field of urban experimentation” for modernist architects who have thrown the concept of the 20th Century city right out the window. Much of this highly dense skyline was built in the last decade and its populous is a mix of intellectuals with a high level of education, and migrant workers.

It’s proximity directly north of Hong Kong has further propelled its development and there are even plans for the two cities to integrate over the next decade to create a metropolis large enough to rival New York and Tokyo. Whilst it might have close neighbourly ties the cost of living in Shenzhen is considerably lower.

With average temperatures of 22°C year-round (around 34°C currently) it’s certainly going to take some getting used to for someone used to English weather! Whilst I have never been to Shenzhen I can’t wait to get there 🙂

Last but certainly not least, many thanks to everyone who has offered help and advice. I have no doubt I will be asking for many favours over the coming months as I adjust to this new life so please bear with me!

Innovation ≠ New Features

If there’s one thing that winds me up more than anything else in software development is the misguided notion that new features equal innovation by default. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Microsoft are a perfect example of this dichotomy. Each new version of a product they release includes tonnes of new features which will be of no use to 80% of users whilst at the same time making the product more difficult and obfuscated to use. Just look at all the toolbar and menu items available in Word for a perfect example.

Whilst radical innovation may include completely new ideas and concepts there is a clear distinction between this and simply adding new features for the sake of maintaining a false sense of progress and momentum. Apple understand this and hence produce products which are orders of magnitude easier to use than anyone else. Everything has clearly been well thought through and is joined up ~ using an Apple product is a pleasure rather than a chore.

At its core innovation is not about adding new features (although may sometimes include this); its about creation and improvement through research and experimentation to provide valuable user experiences. Concentrate on the critical core 20% of your service or application and make improvements there before you start bolting on new things (if ever). Careful thinking is always required to exploit new ideas and whilst this is an individual process many people simply don’t seem to get it.

In summary: change is good, change for change sake is not. Innovate, don’t obfuscate!


Shenzhen River
Photo by yuan2003

BIG news coming soon! I’ve wanted to post about this for weeks but have had to hold off while things were finalised. All will be explained soon 😉

Useful iPhone Apps

After the initial glitches Apple had with their iPhone 3G launch and 2.0 software update launch last Friday settled down I was pleasantly surprised to find that, aside from all the new features, there are some pretty useful 3rd party applications already available and even better many are free.

One which particularly caught my eye is the Mandarin Audio Phrasebook made by Lonely Planet. While I usually take a phrasebook when I’m going somewhere I don’t speak the language to be honest I rarely use it. The problem I have with paper phrase books is that its a pain to find what you want quickly which is the majority of situations when you need it. This application goes some way to solving the issue by providing easily navigable contextual menus structured by helpful subjects like Transport, Accommodation, Food & Drink and so on which lead to searchable lists of useful phrases.

Each phrase includes an audio clip of it being spoken as well as the written form in both Chinese characters and the Pinyin (romanised) alternative. Now instead of having to flick through a paper based book looking for the right phrase you can very quickly find what you need to play it back or show whoever you need to communicate with. One cool enhancement would be to integrate this with something like Google Translate so you could get real-time translation of anything.

I’m looking forward to testing this in the field and hopefully brushing up on my very limited Mandarin!

Lonely Planet also have other phrasebooks available for the iPhone in a multitude of different languages, each priced at a reasonable £5.99.

P.s. if anyone’s interested in how I took screenshots above on an iPhone just hold the home button and press sleep – the screen will flash white for a moment and send the picture to your camera roll.

Skyline Time Lapse

Apologies for not posting so frequently for the past couple of weeks – work/life has been very hectic (even more so than usual) and doesn’t look like it will let up for a few weeks yet. That said, I will endeavour to get a few posts out starting with this experiment I made recently…

A couple of weeks back I moved rooms in the house where I live to the top floor “penthouse” which one of my previous housemates had just vacated. Aside from having its own ensuite bathroom (a major plus!) and a balcony it also has great back and front views. Whist enjoying watching the world go by I decided to try creating a time lapse video with the inbuilt camera on my MacBook Pro. Above is my first attempt which I captured using an open source program called Gawker which took a picture every 20 seconds and then mixed together in iMovie ’08. The music is “Red-Eye” by The Album Leaf and the view is looking towards Canary Wharf which you can just see peeking out from behind some of the houses in the foreground.

Although the picture is fairly compressed it’s nice to see what you can do with the tiny camera in a MBP and I hope to be doing some more experiments in the near future.